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It’s been just over a week since the Red Sox were crowned World Champions and now everyone’s eyes are set towards 2014. There is no doubt that Ben Cherington did a masterful job this year, look at the end result. The question is whether he is capable of a repeat performance. Here are what I believe to be the three keys to the offseason:
Jacoby Ellsbury is a game changer. He gets on base, steals with remarkable efficiency (52 for 56 during the regular season), and plays gold glove defense. The power from 2011 is an outlier, and, as a result, a great player but not a franchise player. Cherington showed last off season that there is a need for discipline when signing players long-term. The Red Sox should hold a firm line around a 5 year 90 million dollar contract. Anything more and the Red Sox should let Ellsbury walk and pick up the draft picks. Jackie Bradley, Jr. is by no means a lock to be a great player, so don’t be surprised if Cherington goes out to get a veteran outfielder as insurance.
If there is one glaring problem on the otherwise solid Red Sox roster, it resides behind the plate. Saltamacchia set career highs in many offensive categories in 2013 all while gaining the respect of the pitching staff, but that all changed when he faltered in the postseason and was replaced by veteran David Ross. Ross is signed through next year, but cannot be expected to play more than 60 games next year. This leaves the Red Sox with two choices: Jarrod Saltalamacchia or Brain McCann. McCann seems like the obvious choice, but only at the right length. A quick look at Salty’s and McCann’s stats shows that they are similar players and that the only edge McCann are his power numbers. If the Red Sox can convince McCann to come to Boston on a 3-4 year deal with a higher average salary, then that would strengthen the team. Otherwise signing Salty to a two-year deal bridges the gap to the young talent of Christian Vasquez or Blake Swihart.
There is no doubt that Mike Napoli is a streaky hitter who is prone to a strikeout every now and then (Red Sox record 187 in a season). Given this, it is important that Napoli don a Red Sox jersey next season. Napoli’s two best months of the year were April and September, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that those were the best months for the Red Sox. When Napoli is hot, he gives the protection David Ortiz needs and extends the lineup. Even when he is not at his best, Napoli works the count as evidenced by his Major League leading 4.59 pitches seen per appearance. All this, plus a slightly above-average fielding performance makes it important that the Red Sox sign Napoli this offseason.
Clearly there are more than three things to do during an offseason, but at the moment I feel that these three should be at the forefront of Ben Cherington’s mind. After he figures those out, he’ll have to decide on what the left side of the infield will look like next year and what to do with six solid starters. The offseason has just begun, so let long winter of speculating begin.